Category Archives: Life and Death

In fire country “the drill” getting familiar but old

Over the weekend, I called to check on my cousin Diana Hottell and her husband Bill, who live in Twisp.

Diana and Bill, longtime Twisp residents, knew one of the three firefighters killed last week while battling the Twisp River Fire. Tom Zbyszewski (pronounced be-SHEF-ski), 20, of nearby Carlton, loved drama, had been a lifeguard at the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and was about to head back for his junior year at Whitman College in Walla Walla.

The Hottells, who we’ve visited on a number of occasions, live in a charming older home on the Twisp River. We’ve enjoyed their hospitality, Diana’s cooking and sleeping in the cabin on the river that they built for the purpose of having some peace when guests descend, as they do when you live in a place like Twisp. We’ve attended their performances at the Antlers Saloon, where in the past Bill has played ragtime piano and Diana, the banjo, self-taught. Bill is a former Jesuit priest and also was with the Marine Corps for what that’s worth.

Bordered by a large field, their home was spared. They know three people who lost their homes in the fire, however. And when they went up the canyon to check on a friend’s vacation cabin, they found it burned to the ground. Strangely, the fire didn’t jump the river, Diana said.

In the decades the Hottells have lived in Twisp, the last two fire seasons have been the worst they’ve seen.

“It’s apocalyptic,” Diana said. “Last summer was unprecedented … until this summer.”

A firefighting helicopter flies past a dark red sun and through a deep haze that blanketed the Okanogan Valley Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Tonasket, Wash. Out-of-control blazes in north-central Washington have destroyed buildings, but the situation is so chaotic that authorities have "no idea" how many homes may have been lost. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The U.S. is in the midst of one of its worst fire seasons on record, according to an article Monday in the Associated Press. About 11,600 square miles have burned so far.
Brandon Gardner, a firefighter with Snohomish County Fire District 7, pulls a water hose into position while helping prevent a wildfire from spreading to a nearby homeowner's property near Okanogan, Wash., on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (Ian Terry /The Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (Ian Terry /The Herald via AP)

In case you didn’t notice, over the weekend, Kitsap County was blanketed by a haze of rank smelling smoke from fires around the state. Although this is only the sixth-worst fire season going back to 1960, according to the AP, it’s the most acreage burned by this date in a decade, so fire officials expect the ranking to rise.

Adapting to fire season has become second nature to the residents of Twisp and other Eastern Washington communities.

When the town was evacuated last week, the Hottells knew the drill. Last summer, they piled two cars full, mostly with photo slides and maps from their youthful trips around the world and Bill’s more recent travels as a historical tour guide in the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East.

The threat of fire puts into focus the things that really matter Diana said. This year, the list got smaller. Once again, Bill’s slides and their family documents came along, but this time they only filled one car when they went to Spokane to stay with friends.

As other fires burn, the Twisp River Fire is largely contained, according to Diana, and life is returning back to normal, but the haze lingers in the Methow Valley and so does the feeling of being constantly on guard. Bill attended a meeting this weekend at the fire hall hosted by the mayor and other local officials. The meeting was packed. Residents are ready to help each other with proactive clearing of trees and brush around homes or, at a moment’s notice, to put up someone else’s livestock if a fire threatens a property.

The Hottells and others will keep an eye on the wind, tune into local advisories and hone their list of must haves, ready to pack up the car on any given day. In the meantime, they’ll carry on with their daily routines, which include playing ragtime for dances at the local senior center. According to a recent article in the Methow Valley News, the Hottells typically end their performances with the song “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”

Officer faces second round with brain tumors

Doug Dillard is a name we’ve seen a lot here in the newsroom. With the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, Dillard was most recently was tasked with monitoring the county’s sex offenders. That also meant organizing meetings with residents when, as Josh Farley wrote, “Level 3 sex offenders change addresses.”

Now he’s got a different job, battling a brain tumor thought to have gone away 14 years ago.  According to GoFundMe page set up on his family’s behalf:

“Doug has an inoperable brain tumor called a glioblastoma . Brain cancers are extremely difficult to treat and glioblastomas are among the most aggressive tumors. Unfortunately, Doug’s is no different. His Neuro Oncologist has Doug on a treatment regimen that includes bi-weekly  infusions, daily anti-seizure therapy, and routine MRIs to monitor his brain tumor .”

Former Sheriff Steve Boyer wrote of a Dillard’s courage throughout his ordeal, saying that Dillard “never became victim,” when the tumor returned. He expressed admiration for Mary, Dillard’s wife, calling her “an angel.”

The GoFundMe page has a goal of raising $20,000 to help the family with expenses as Dillard goes through infusion treatments. “We want to show Doug how much we, and his community, love and support him,” the page’s author wrote. “We are saying, ‘Thank you for being an amazing husband, father, uncle, and friend. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your example.'”

On Friday the site passed the $4,000 mark.

NYT article focuses on Port Orchard man

Several people on Facebook have mentioned a New York Times article about Doug Whitney, a Port Orchard man who has a gene mutation that (in most people) causes early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Whitney, 65, has yet to show symptoms, and researchers are trying to figure out why.

Whitney’s mother and nine of her siblings, as well as Whitney’s older brother died of the disease. All began showing symptoms in their 40s.

“So Mr. Whitney has become Exhibit A in a new direction in genetics research. After years of looking for mutations that cause diseases, investigators are now searching for those that prevent them,” the article states.

The idea of beneficial gene mutations is getting plenty of attention from the scientific community.

Two Seattle researchers have started “The Resilience Project,” drawing on large databases to find people, like Whitney, who seem to have protective genes. They found Whitney after contacting Washington University (in St. Louis), where a study is under way of families with a gene, presenilin, that causes early Alzheimer’s. Whitney joined the study in 2011.

Whitney deferred getting tested for the Alzheimer’s causing gene until he turned 62. Other researchers have contacted him, as well, and Whitney, for his part, is happy to contribute to advancing knowledge of Alzheimer’s, the article states.

So, question for readers: If, based on the medical history of family members, you knew you might have a disease-causing genetic mutation, would you get tested and when?

How we got the river rescue story

Maddy Herring at the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. Photo by Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun
Maddy Herring at the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. Photo by Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

On Sunday we told the story of Maddy Herring, a local 21-year-old who nearly lost her life in the Skokomish River. The story itself was certainly worth telling, but every once in a while the story behind the story is worth revealing to some degree. That is the case here.

Every morning and every evening we make calls to the local fire agencies, Washington State Patrol, the coroner’s office and to Central Communications to ask them and other local police agencies if anything happened worth reporting. It’s just one way we learn about things. Other times it’s people calling us, messaging us on Facebook or Twitter or we hear something on the scanner. It’s not the only way we learn things, but sometimes it turns into something newsworthy. The vast majority of times there is nothing new to report that comes from these calls. But they are worth making because of the times there is something worth reporting.

On Monday, Aug. 25 it was my turn to make the night calls. Included on our list of calls are three Bremerton Fire stations. My recollection is that I called one station and the officer who answered said there was nothing to report from the department, but that I ought to talk to Kevin Bonsell at Station 3 because of something he experienced while out with his family at Staircase the day before. When I called there and talked to another department officer I asked if Bonsell was available. I told him I had heard he had experienced something unique on Sunday and he told me the entire story.

After hearing what happened I was eager for someone here to get the story in the paper for a couple of reasons. One was that there was a public service element to it that reminded people of the dangers rivers can pose. The second, though, was that the story had that element of danger, but ended well for everyone. People showed up and did what they could and Maddy Herring is alive because of it. Bonsell said he would see if the family was willing.

My understanding is the Herring family found him again by reaching out through someone at the Central Kitsap Fire District, and that word got over to Bremerton through them. No one who was directly involved was advertising a story. That makes it even more attractive, because no one was looking for publicity just for themselves. Bonsell didn’t reach out to me, but once I asked him to tell the story he saw the public service benefit as well.

It took a few days but eventually Bonsell called me back with phone numbers for Maddy and her mother. By the time I spoke with Maddy it was a week and two days after the event. I was hoping I could get Bonsell to go out to the site to point out where it happened and talk on video. I had very little hope that Maddy herself would be willing to go. When I spoke to her, though, she was up for it, again recognizing the public service aspect of the story. So we made plans to meet her out there on Friday with a photographer, Meegan Reid.

The video setting is not far from where it all happened, but it’s not exactly there. When we first got there she tried to recognize the spot and could not right away. We eventually figured that the river was running lower than it was the Sunday almost two weeks before. So we filmed from a nice place to provide a good setting for the story. As you can see, Maddy was quite good at retelling it.

After we finished filming Maddy, Meegan and I began walking back to our car as Maddy decided to hike further up the trail. Meegan and I kept thinking that we had missed a turn on the trail so we hiked a little more than we’d planned before making it back. I decided to go the ranger’s station and see if we could get an incident report, which was when Maddy returned from the trail. In the interim she had found the actual spot where she was stuck and took some pictures. She said it looked more or less the same as it had that Sunday, but there would have been no way we could have gone down there with our cameras. She said seeing it made her heart race a little and she was careful not to get too close. The other bonus was the Herrings had left two pair of flip-flops and a T-shirt behind in all the chaos, and that they were still there two weeks later.

A man described as a political science professor also played a role in the rescue. I reached out to several at the different colleges in the area and struck out. Maddy’s mother, Theresa, called me on Friday and we spoke that day. I wrote the story and edited the video that night.

This whole thing came about because of a regular phone call we make in which we essentially ask, “Anything happening?”

My guess is the crews at the fire stations are not glad we interrupt their mornings and evenings to ask that question. I’m always glad when they tell me the calls have been routine. Some of that is because when the calls are not routine it usually means something bad happened to someone. The other part is if something happened it means more work. We’re like NASCAR fans who don’t necessarily want there to be a wreck, but if there is one we don’t want to miss it.

Most local fire agencies, the ones who still welcome our calls, have been very good about sharing what’s happening with us. Maybe it’s because they see the public service element in what they tell us. I’m sure sometimes they get disappointed in how we write what happened. That’s the risk, I suppose. But I think the public is well served in that relationship. And it’s because of that relationship that we were able to tell Maddy Herring’s story.

On Saturday, memorials for two young people

A summer of loss.

This is how it feels. Three young people in Kitsap County died within a month of one another.

On July 4, Josh Osborn, 17, of South Kitsap, was on an outing with friends when he fell into the Ohanapecosh River. His body was recovered on July 28.

On July 14, JJ Hentz, 12, also of South Kitsap, was found floating in Island Lake. He died two days later at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.
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Jenise Wright’s parents reported her missing on Aug. 3. The last time the 6-year-old was seen was around 10 p.m. the night before. On Aug. 7 her body was found, partially submerged in a muddy bog near Steele Creek Trailer Park in East Bremerton, where her family lives. On Aug. 9, Gabriel Gaeta, a friend of the Wright family, was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing Jenise.
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A memorial for JJ Hentz was held several weeks ago. JJ was “a bubbly and energetic boy with an old soul,” said cousin Jaime Wainwright, whom JJ called “Aunt Jaime.”

On Saturday, Josh Osborn and Jenise Wright, will be mourned at memorial services a couple of hours apart. Both are open to the public.

Jenise’s service is at 1 p.m. at the Silverdale Stake Center, 9256 Nels Nelson Road NW.
Jenise was outgoing, always at the center of activity at the mobile home park. She loved the colors pink and purple.
The Wright family is accepting donations to help offset expenses. Donations can be made online at a gofundme account or at Chase Bank branches, under the “Jenise Wright donation account.”

Josh Osborn was “every parents’ dream” according to his obituary, written by his family. “He was kind, handsome, smart, funny, but most of all he had the biggest, most loving heart. Josh loved life and he lived every day to its fullest. He had many passions and dreams.”
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A memorial for Josh is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday at the South Kitsap High School gym. In honor of Josh, the family asks that you wear your Seahawks or South Kitsap gear.

Josh Osborn’s body recovered by Kitsap-based mountain rescue group

Through a series of chance circumstances, the group that recovered Josh Osborn’s body Monday on a river near Mt. Rainier was the Bremerton based Olympic Mountain Rescue.

Josh fell into the turbulent, glacially fed Ohanapecosh River on July 4 during an outing with friends. Warm weather that led to snow melt made the river especially high, hampering search efforts. On Sunday, however, the Port Orchard teen’s body was spotted by kayakers, who alerted authorities.

But getting to him was no easy matter.

Josh lay in a foot of water between a mile and a mile-and-a-half from where he fell in, according to Roger Beckett of Olympic Mountain Rescue, who got the call about 2 a.m. Sunday from the state’s Emergency Management Division. Beckett coordinates rescue efforts for the group.

Typically, a mountain rescue group from Tacoma would have been called first, since they are closer, Beckett said. But because rescue groups are staffed by volunteers, the matter of who responds depends on who can most quickly rally a group of people with the technical skills required for the situation.

Josh’s body was reported to be in or near a rocky gorge kayakers call the “elbow room,” a particularly challenging stretch of the river, with narrow chutes of foamy white water and deadfall trees littering the route. Beckett expected rescuers would need to rappel into the gorge.

“This isn’t a place where anybody goes unless they go down to fish and kayak. It’s a rugged part of the river system,” Beckett said.

This picture, courtesy of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, gives a visual of the river.
Ohanapecosh

By 8 a.m. Monday a team of six Olympic Mountain Rescue members arrived at Packwood to receive a briefing from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, which was leading the search and recovery. Beckett did not go along, but he got a briefing later from team members. They split into three groups from the base of operations near the intersection of highways 12 and 123 and combed the riverbank at the bottom of a steep grassy ravine, according to Beckett.

Finally, they located Josh and were able to reach him, placing him in a stretcher, which they lifted to the road in several pitches, using a 600-foot rope.

Olympic Mountain Rescue, established in 1959, is made up of 25 to 30 members familiar with alpine climbing and specially trained for rescue and recovery in rough terrain, where even first responders are hard put to go.

OMR members participate in a couple dozen rescue or recovery efforts most years, and they took part in the search for missing outdoors writer Karen Sykes in June on Mt. Rainier. Sykes, an experienced mountaineer, died of hypothermia on the mountain. The group did not participate in rescue Tuesday of a 25-year-old Bremerton man who fell down an embankment under High Steel Bridge on the Skokomish River.

Osborn family expresses gratitude for support following son’s death

On Thursday, hundreds gathered to celebrate the all-too-short but amazing life of Josh Osborn, the 17-year-old South Kitsap High School student who drowned July 4 in a river near Mt. Rainer.

Josh’s mother Jennifer Osborn sent a statement on behalf of the family following the candlelight vigil, which I share here with you, along with information about fundraisers for the family (below).
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“There really are no words to express the pain our family is feeling. A piece of our hearts is gone and no amount of time will ever heal that.

“Josh was the most amazing son who touched everybody he met in some way. He lived his life to the fullest and put 100 percent into everything he did. His family, girlfriend Gianna and his friends were the most important things in his life. He held those relationships close to his heart and was fiercely protective of those he loved.

“His other love in life was football, he ate breathed slept football. I remember how excited and proud we all were when he was one of only a few sophomores to make the varsity roster at South Kitsap High School.
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“Our time with Josh will always be cherished and the sadness we feel because of everything we will miss out on is unbearable. He meant so much to so many people and will be deeply missed by all who had the priveledge of knowing and loving him.

“His dad Brian, brother Jacob stepmom Mary Jo and myself would like to say thank you for all the love and support we have received from family, friends and the community. You have lifted us up in our time of need and for that we are forever grateful.

“Josh’s legacy will forever live on in our hearts. His sweet soul and beautiful smile will never be forgotten. We all feel his presence every minute of every day.

“Thank you all that came to the candlelight vigil. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced, and in that moment, as much as our hearts are hurting, we felt a sense of peace and joy.

“RIP my sweet little man cub. Our angel here on earth now our angel in heaven. No words can ever express how much you were loved but I know you knew that every day you were on this earth.”
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— Faith Fulsoul, a family friend, is hosting an online fundraiser at GoFundMe.com, www.gofundme.com/b4bag8. The goal is $25,000. The site has more than 100,000 shares on Facebook.

— A spaghetti feed fundraiser is planned 4-8 p.m. Sunday at Christian Life Center, 1780 Lincoln Ave. SE, Port Orchard. It is $6 a plate with $1 a ticket raffle.

A car wash is planned 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 26 at The Frozen One frozen yogurt shop, 1800 Mile Hill Drive, Port Orchard.

— The Route 16 Running Club has included a memorial for Josh Osborn in beneficiaries of its annual Miracle Run 5K on Aug. 9 in Gig Harbor. At www.miraclerun5k.com, click “online registration” to designate a donation. The run begins at 9 a.m. at South Kitsap Regional Park, 2841 SE Lund Ave., Port Orchard.

Fund established for family of teen presumed drowned

We’ve received no additional word on the search for Josh Osborn, a 17-year-old Port Orchard resident who slipped in the Ohanapecosh River near Mt. Rainier on July 4th and is presumed dead.
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The river is six feet above normal for this time of year. Search parties will resume looking for Osborn when the water subsides.

In the meantime, word of Osborn’s tragic accident has spread like wildfire among his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Josh’s brother Jake told me yesterday that Josh reached out even to people he didn’t know well, and he could always cheer people up.

A Kitsap Sun reader who commented on our story yesterday linked to a fundraiser for Josh’s family hosted by Faith Fulsol on gofundme.com. The goal is $25,000, with more than $6,000 raised so far.

We send our deepest condolences to Josh’s family.

Chris Henry
Kitsap Sun

One voice will be missing from Hal Champeness memorial Saturday

Friends and family of Hal Champeness plan a memorial from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Old Town Bistro, 3388 NW Byron St.
Hal Champeness
Champeness, 90, originally from Bainbridge Island, was a local music legend who died in a house fire in Poulsbo April 10. He played stand-up bass and sang with local bands, including Don Alverson & Friends.

At an informal gathering at the Old Town Bistro shortly after his death, Champeness was lauded as “the little Giant with the sharp wit, golden voice and seductive smile.”
The pictures below the picture of Hal are from that get-together.
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Below, you can read a detailed biography of Champeness by his friend Gerald Elfendahl. Campeness was born Aug. 9, 1924. He lived on Bainbridge. He started out singing and playing violin at school. On the football team, he was a 5-foot-3-inch tall, 140-pound quarterback, who earned “most inspirational” award.

In 1940, Champeness heard of a band that needed a bass player, and for the remainder of his life, he and that instrument were “joined at the hip,” as Elfendahl says.

Champeness served as a Navy radio operator in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Later, after the war, he joined up with Stan Boreson, a Seattle entertainer known as the “King of Scandinavian Humor.”

Later yet, he continued his musical career playing and singing at Whiskey Creek Steak House and other venues. His CD “The Champ” was issued in 2010.

He was married and widowed three times, and he leaves behind his son Hal Jr.

Even after he finally set aside his bass, Champeness continued singing, mostly at the Bistro, where he and Hal Jr. stopped in regularly.

Anyone attending the memorial is asked to bring instruments, voices, cookies and memories of “The Champ,” whose own voice at the event will surely be missed.

* Photos, except the picture of Hal Champeness, courtesy of Brei Rasmussen-Dodd.

Hal Champeness, 1923-2014

Woman first on scene of Baby Doll crash sells bracelets

Aily Blaikie, the woman who was first on the scene of a fatal crash on Baby Doll Road Dec. 16, attended today’s memorial.

Family and friends of Rebekah Barrett and Shanaia Bennett gathered on Baby Doll to remember the girls (who were best friends) and to place roadside signs in their memory urging people to drive safely.
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On the night of the collision, Blaikie ran down the road after hearing the Toyota Camry Rebekah was driving racing with another car at high speed and the sickening crash that followed. Blaikie arrived at the car, which had collided with a tree, and held the two girls as they faded out of consciousness, saying a prayer for them. A third girl, who was in the back seat, survived.

Blakie, a young woman herself, left in shock after aid arrived. The next morning she was out on the road staring at the scene. The memory of the girls’ last moments haunted Blakie. She had nightmares and sometimes hallucinated, thinking she saw them in her house and carried on conversations with them.
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She often walked down to the scarred tree, where someone had set up a makeshift memorial. For hours she would lie on the bench. One day, she said, a man came to the site and they talked for a long time. She later learned he was Rebekah’s father, John Barrett.

Blaikie met the two families and has developed a bond forged through the tragedy. Slowly, she is healing emotionally. But she wanted to do something for the Bennetts and Barretts.

Blakie is selling memorial wristbands with both girls’ names, a music note for Shanaia and a soccer ball for Rebecca. Any money she raises will help the family with expenses they’ve incurred and for memorials like the roadside signs.

The bracelets cost $4 each. To order one, call Blaikie at (360) 551-1614